SURESH RAMPHUL

A young adult tells me that it doesn’t please him at all when people he meets every day on his way to work ask him personal questions about where he is going, how he spent his previous day, how his family is doing, how his work is going on. He feels embarrassed and even angry inside himself. He cannot help feeling that they’re intruding in his personal life.

Phatic communion

Anywhere in the world, people every day indulge in small talk. From a linguistic point of view, it’s called phatic communion. A typical conversation would run something like this:

Ki pozision beta? Tou korek?

Wi, sa va.

Kot to pe ale koumsa?

Pe al boulo kom dabitid.

To papa ki manyer ta?

Li bien.

To mama ?

Li ousi li bien.

Travay pe marse ?

Enfin, pa mal. En zeneral, mo bizin dir tou korek.

Eh yer mo trouv twa Curepipe. Zoli bataz matlo. To ti pe al frekante kisa ta?

Eh pa badine do ta.

To dan bien twa ein.

To kwar sa.

Bon, les mo kit twa. Inpe prese-la. Enn lot kout nou a rezwenn. Nou kontinie dialog-la.

Ok, bien kontan monn zwenn twa. Ale, plitar.

In phatic communion, the speakers aren’t seeking information as such. Generally, from the context and the tone, we come to understand that we’re not expected to get into a detailed explanation of our health situation to a question like “To bien?” Nor is the other person expecting to obtain a detailed account.

Small talk takes place every day and at different moments of the day. It may appear meaningless at the outset but it has a significant part to play in communication. It conventionally establishes a rapport between two or more individuals. It starts a conversation in a casual way and helps in facilitating social encounter.

There’s nothing wrong in exchanging social pleasantries. A friendly tone tends to have a relaxing effect. Moreover, it’s a polite way to relate to each other. “Tou korek?” or “How’s everything going?” is certainly not an invitation to recount your personal experiences. There’s a kind of tacit understanding or agreement between people that in small talk, sharing of detailed information is not involved. In a different context, for example in a doctor’s cabinet, the same question would elicit a different response.

Phatic communion can also be non-verbal: a smile, a laugh, a gesture, a blush, the passing of the hand over your hair or the scratching of the chin    they’re all sending messages and at the same time serving to reinforce interpersonal relationships.

Mood

Small talk is generally trivial and doesn’t involve standard language. “Koze mam”, “Eh nou lekip-la dan bez”, “samem sa”, “enn mari letan sa foutou”, “lavi ki dir?”, “nou fer enn chak”, “to enn manzer latet twa” are common expressions. Small talk has the advantage of putting people in a nice mood. It’s a way of expressing a wish to maintain a good relationship with someone. Moreover, it creates a sense of security. You have the feeling that at least there’s someone in this world to make your day.

How you respond to small talk is a matter of your state of mind. If you’re in a bad mood, you may not respond positively. You may feel annoyed and you may think that the speaker is being inquisitive. You can show your irritation. You may run into trouble with the person with the result that he will want to avoid you at all costs next time. He may even find the situation confusing because on his part he never meant to poke his nose in your personal affairs. It’s therefore important to understand when somebody is looking for information from you and when he isn’t. A misreading of the person’s intentions can bring about tension in a relationship.

Without small talk, like would be dull.